In the Media

5AA Interview on Pauline Hanson’s call for autistic children to be removed from mainstream schools

5AA with Jade Robran

Jade Robran: Kelly Vincent I have been watching your Twitter feed today and you’ve been very outspoken on this topic.

Kelly Vincent: And rightly so I think because at the end of the day these comments hurt people, they alienate people because Pauline Hanson is using terminology like ‘we need to get rid of these kids so that our kids can get a better education’. Well I’m sorry, Pauline Hanson, but kids on the autism spectrum and kids with disabilities are our kids and they have every right to an inclusive education just like everyone else. And if nothing else it’s very concerning to see a parliamentarian ignoring legal obligations under both the Disability Discrimination Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities that specifically outline Australia’s legal obligation to provide an inclusive education.

Jade Robran: Do you think these are just very uneducated Pauline Hanson comments yet again?

Kelly Vincent: I’ve just finished chairing a committee into this exact issue, the experience of students with disabilities in our education system, one of the things that came out was that teachers and SSOs and school staff want more training on how to better respond to the needs of students who have different learning needs, be that because of disability or trauma or another point of difference. So I think it’s really interesting that teachers and school staff have been telling me the whole time I’ve been chairing this inquiry not that they want to alienate these students but that they want to be able to do a better job in serving them in the classroom environment.

Jade Robran: Is the problem that we have here with these comments that Pauline Hanson has put children with autism in the same box?

Kelly Vincent: I think absolutely, we’re talking about human beings and every human being is different from the other and so every human being will learn a little bit differently so what we need to do is train teachers and school staff with the right toolbox to respond to those differences. And the sheer likelihood is that given that one in five people has a disability or some point of difference, the sheer likelihood you’ll come across these needs in the course of a teaching career means that it’s right for students and teachers alike to have these skills. And we have some good examples of where there’s some great leadership being shown one of them is a great program that’s designed for students with autism teaching them bodily awareness, how to regulate emotion, how to manage feelings of being overwhelmed physically and emotionally. But where this is really successful is when it’s taught to the entire classroom because of course all people, particularly young people and even teenagers, can have difficulty with those things.

So I think where we can really succeed is when we stop othering people and see that we all actually stand to benefit when we properly include people who have these differences. And another point I would make about that program is that that’s actually designed and taught by a person who is themselves on the autism spectrum I think it goes to show that not only do people with disabilities have a lot to contribute when we are properly educated and supported then given those opportunities, when we look at education as an investment in making sure that students with disabilities just like any other student can reach our full potential, but we can actually learn something from us here we have just one example, a person on the autism spectrum themselves, who’s come into the Education Department and basically said ‘you’re doing things wrong; let me teach you how to properly respond to the needs of these autistic students as an autistic person myself’.

And as I’ve outlined, that’s had great results not only for the students on the autism spectrum but their classmates as well the other point I would make is I firmly believe that a big role that school has to play is preparing students for the real world and out there in the real world there are people who are different, who learn differently, who communicate differently be that because of race or gender or disability or any other point of difference. So I think this is a great opportunity to actually stop and say as a society how can we teach our children to properly respect and respond to the needs of those people that they do meet and they will continue to meet throughout the course of their lives.

Jade Robran: kids do, it’s us adults that I think complicate things sometimes.

Kelly Vincent Absolutely, myself as a wheelchair user sometimes do school visits and often the teacher will take me aside beforehand and say ‘is it okay if they ask questions about your wheelchair’ it’s not a secret, I’m not ashamed of it their questions are as simple as ‘how fast does it go’ and ‘what kind of tricks can you do with it’. So I think you do hit the nail on the head when you say sometimes we are projecting our values onto kids when we could actually learn a lot from them about inclusion and respecting diversity. But again we do have to make sure that school staff, including teachers, SSOs and principals are given the proper training to respect and respond to those differences in the same way that kids often do.

Jade Robran: That’s right, that’s a key point more money in our education system all round. Thank you.